Plans shelved for shorter school holidays in Wales

A classroom with children in school uniform with their backs to the camera facing their teacher who is smiling. The children all have their hands up and there is a maths equation on the board.
The Welsh government has hit pause on plans to shake up the usual six-week summer holiday [Getty]

Plans to cut the school summer holiday have been shelved until after the next Welsh Parliament election.

Education Secretary Lynne Neagle said schools needed time to work on other major improvements.

She said "opinion was hugely divided" on the changes, which had been strongly opposed by teaching unions, as well as organisers of Wales’ biggest agricultural show The Royal Welsh, and some tourist attractions.

If the proposals had gone ahead, the half term break in October 2025 would have been extended to a fortnight, with a five week rather than six week holiday in summer 2026.

There are about 470,000 pupils in Wales who would be affected by the changes if they were to go ahead, according to the latest figures.

Ministers argued that disadvantaged pupils would benefit most from a shorter summer break and more regular terms would be less tiring for pupils and staff.

They said many families struggled with childcare over the long summer holiday, and the changes would "align more effectively with how families live and work".

But education unions said it was a distraction from other challenges schools face and could deter teachers from joining the profession.

The response to a public consultation - the biggest on record about education - generated more than 16,000 responses, the Welsh government said.

It said "a narrow majority" of those who responded were in favour of changing school holidays, but there were "contradictory" findings - so more discussion was needed before anything was finalised.

Ms Neagle said a "pause" would allow reforms such as the new curriculum for Wales and an overhaul of additional learning needs to be rolled out before another major change.

"We need to continue listening to and engaging with schools, teachers, unions as well as children, young people and parents on how best we can implement any changes in the future," she said.

Lynne Neagle
Lynne Neagle said she was "acutely aware we are asking a lot of teachers and schools" [Labour]

"They are supporting our ambitious transformation of education in Wales and they need the time and the space to ensure these reforms deliver for children and young people."

She said she wanted to prioritise ongoing school reforms and improving attainment and therefore, no changes will be made to the school year this Senedd term.

Any decision to go ahead with the changes to school holidays would be taken after the next Welsh Parliament election in May 2026 - making any change to the school holidays unlikely before the 2028-2029 school year.

The Welsh government said: "The total cost of the work around the structure of the school year is approximately £350,000."

The Conservative shadow education secretary Tom Giffard said the school system is "in crisis with soaring absenteeism, a shocking decline in education standards, the worst PISA results in the UK and rising incidences of violence plaguing our schools".

He said "the policy needs to be scrapped completely".

Plaid Cymru’s education spokesperson, Heledd Fychan MS said: "It’s clear that there is a crisis in education in Wales. This requires Welsh government to take action to improve school attendance, educational attainment and safety, as well as recruit and retain more teachers and improve support for learners with additional learning needs."

Eithne Hughes, director of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) Cymru, said it is "relieved" at the decision.

However, she added that the union found it "disappointing" the issue had been "given such high priority" when there are "so many more pressing challenges in education".

Neil Butler, national official for Wales for the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) said this "bizarre attack on the summer break" needed to be "consigned to the dustbin of history".

He added: "Wales has already got the shortest summer break in the whole of Europe.

"There’s no educational reason for it whatsoever, and in fact we believe that it would have been educationally damaging."

Children in an English lesson with their hands up and a Romeo and Juliet book open on the table
The NASUWT union said "Wales has already got the shortest summer break in the whole of Europe" [PA]

What are the rules for schools across the UK?

School holidays in Wales are broadly in line with England, but there are some variations between local authorities across the UK.

Scotland has a different pattern where the summer term ends earlier and resumes in August.

Some local authorities in England and Scotland have two-week breaks in October, including the Isle of Wight and Falkirk.

A report earlier this year suggested the school summer holiday in England should be shorter.

What is the background?

A panel was set up in 2019 by the previous administration of the Welsh government to re-imagine and modernise schooling.

The plan was given a new lease of life after the pandemic when a pledge "to radically reform" school term dates and "bring them more in line with contemporary patterns of family life and employment" was included in the cooperation agreement between the Welsh government and Plaid Cymru in November 2021.

This plan was part of the cooperation agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru before the latter pulled out of the agreement in May 2024.

The plan was closely associated with former first minister Mark Drakeford - but his departure before a final decision was made meant the policy’s future became uncertain.

When the proposals were put to the public in November 2023, they were opposed by the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society, who said its annual show held at the end of July and children from farming families would suffer, as they would still be at school if the term was extended.

The Welsh Association of Visitor Attractions, which represents popular destinations such as Zip World in Eryri, Snowdonia, and Folly Farm in Pembrokeshire, also wrote to the previous education minister in January 2024 to oppose the changes, saying it could hurt business.